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The New "Mom and Pops": Green is Good


June 15, 2012

BOULDER, Colo. - A growing group of startups are seeing green - and that means good news for the environment and the economy.

For today's new 'mom-and-pops', eco-friendly practices are a way to stand out from the crowd during these tough economic times.

Ed Rainey, business development leader for Oakland, Calif.-based Back to the Roots, says its home mushroom gardens use recycled coffee grounds for soil and a cardboard box for the pot - for about the same cost as supermarket mushrooms.

"What we're trying to do is make food personal. That's our mission. So we're trying to get food on everybody's kitchen counter that they can grow in any type of environment. "

Back to the Roots' gardens are sold in stores such as Whole Foods. Unlike "greenwashing" - where companies deceptively imply that they have eco-friendly policies - Back to the Roots and other startups fully committed to LOHAS (or Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) values embrace sustainable practices, from hiring to production.

Snack Packers, based in Washington, D.C., is on a mission to banish the vending machine. Founder and self-proclaimed snack curator Ali Cherry says her company makes healthy and tasty alternatives to chips and other processed snacks.

"I think you stand in front of the vending machine and you seek to find the least bad option. You don't actually know what you're getting. You can't look at the ingredients or nutrition label."

Contrary to most vending machine items, Snack Packers are packaged in recyclable containers.

Also a part of the trend are clothing manufacturers such as KeoKjey, which produces eco-friendly women's clothes crafted by severely challenged women in small Cambodian workshops. Rachel Fowler, who's fluent in Khmer, received a Fulbright grant before she founded KeoKjey to get a better idea of the needs and wants of the HIV-positive women with whom she'd be living and working.

"I think the most important thing is talking with people and listening to what they have to say before you share your opinion - because you're in their culture. "

The American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) calls these types of businesses part of the triple-bottom line economy - a way to create sustainable prosperity for all. The sustainability sector even has contests for promising projects, such as this weeks' business plan competition at the LOHAS Forum in Boulder. All three businesses were finalists, and Back to the Roots took home the top prize.

The ASBC sent a letter to President Obama this week laying out how environmentally friendly business growth can be a way to build and grow the U.S. economy.


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